County and towns to get Airbnb room tax proceeds

Like homeowners, Macon County stands to profit from Airbnb’s success.

Over a 19-month period, Macon County has collected $178,000 in occupancy taxes paid by Airbnb, Inc. on behalf of homeowners who have rented their property from August 2015 to April 2019. 

Airbnb, Inc. is an online marketplace and hospitality service brokerage company which members use to arrange or offer lodging and tourism experiences. Acting as a broker, the company receives commissions from each booking. As with other lodging establishments, the company charges and pays occupancy taxes on each nights’ stay to the county. 

 Occupancy taxes are used in the district that they were incurred; money generated in Highlands is used in the Highlands district and likewise the same in Franklin and Nantahala. This is a function of a resolution commissioners passed several years ago when they created the Highlands and Franklin-Nantahala Area Tourism Development Commissions (TDC) to promote tourism in the county. 

The tricky thing with the way Airbnb, Inc. conducts business is when it collects the occupancy tax and pays the county it does not identify the owner of the property or where the property is located. This has presented a challenge for the county’s finance department because they haven’t been able to credit the money to the right district as originally set up in the county’s TDC resolutions.

For the last four years, the money has been set aside until a decision had been made to fairly distribute the funds. Despite requests from the county, Airbnb, Inc. has refused to provide the county with the names of the homeowners or their locations, preventing the county from allocating the funds to the appropriate TDC for Highlands, Franklin and Nantahala.

The refusal of Airbnb, Inc. to disclose the property information prompted County Attorney Chester Jones to recommend to commissioners to modify the documents and bylaws to the TDC as well as the resolution that created those two entities to take into consideration the difficulty the county has had to apply the documents in the way they were originally set up. 

At their June meeting held last week, the Macon County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to allocate the $178,000 in occupancy taxes as recommended by Jones. Jones suggested the most equitable way to distribute the money was to appropriate the funds using a percentage based on the occupancy taxes paid by other lodging establishments who provided their names and addresses during the same time period.

Based on the history of occupancy taxes paid by the other lodging establishments, Jones recommended amending the resolution to appropriate the funds using a percentage in accordance with known occupancy rates in each district. The percentages he recommended are 71.04 percent for Highlands, 22.74 percent for Franklin and 6.22 percent for Nantahala. Using these percentages approved by the commissioners, the funds from the Airbnb, Inc. occupancy taxes will be distributed in August 2019 to each district.

Once amended these percentages are now set in the resolution, and if the county finds the percentages need to be changed, the documents will again have to be amended.

In addition to amending the by-laws for the district’s TDC, amendments also had to be made to service contracts between the county and the Highlands Area Chamber of Commerce and the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce. The chambers assist with the advancement and cultivation of tourism in Macon County and work to promote tourism for their district.

– Highlands Newspaper

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